I’ve been talking with a certain reader, E.K., over email for a while now, and the discussion turned to the Okinawan language, called Uchinaaguchi (沖縄口/ウチナーグチ). E.K. has some first-hand experience with Okinawan and helped to explain the differences. Because information on Okinawan language is so rare, especially in English, I wanted to share this with readers and for reference.
In Japan, Okinawan language is often considered a dialect (hōgen 方言) of Japanese, however, in linguistics they’re considered different, though related languages.1 The difference between Japanese and Okinawan might be compared to something like Spanish and French. They have a common ancestry, but diverged a long, long time ago.2 They are part of the “Japonic” language family which includes other languages too.
In fact, the Ryukyu Islands have not one, but several languages called Ryukyu languages. Okinawan is the language spoken on the main island, Okinawa. If you look at the southern Ryukyu Islands, the languages become noticeably different from both Okinawan and Japanese.
Thanks to E.K., I am posting a list below of words in Japanese and Okinawan for comparison. Also, I found a helpful website here that compares Japanese and Okinawan, specifically the official “Naha” dialect. The page is Japanese only, sorry.
Okinawan is usually written in either Katakana or in Chinese Characters, so I am posting both where possible, plus Romanization. Hopefully, in time I will try to add other dialects to this page such as Yaeyama dialect, Miyako dialect, and others.
Update: Found some information on the Yaeyama dialect as well. Updated table below, but information is incomplete and hard to find. If anyone can verify or correct information here, I’d be grateful. 🙂
|Haisai (male), Haitai (female)
|Nice to meet you|
|Welcome! Said when entering a restaurant.|
|Ogenki Desu Ka?
|How are you? (Polite, formal)|
|Thank you very much|
|Said before eating (lit. “I humbly receive”)|
|Said after eating (lit. “It was a feast”)|
It’s interesting how some phrases sound fairly similar to each other, while others sound completely different.
P.S. For reference, another Japanese/Okinawan dictionary.
1 Even in Japanese, there’s considerable debate about how they compare with each other.